Last week, the Supreme Court of British Columbia released its Reasons for Sentence in Trans Mountain Pipeline ULC v. Mivasair, 2018 BCSC 1890, sentencing four Trans Mountain pipeline protestors to 14 days imprisonment each for criminal contempt of court.
The four women pled guilty to the charge after defying an injunction and continuing to illegally blockade certain Trans Mountain worksites on or near Burnaby Mountain. Their defiance of the injunction was part of an organized protest, intended to attract publicity in an effort to stop construction of the pipeline.
While over 200 protestors have been arrested for defying the injunction, and some have been sentenced to a week in prison, the 14-day sentences are among the longest yet for Trans Mountain protestors. Several months ago, the Crown announced its intention to seek harsher penalties for later arrests and guilty pleas, including 14 days imprisonment for those arrested after August 2, 2018.
All four defendants had defied the injunction peacefully and continued to act peacefully upon their arrests. The defence presented evidence of the defendants’ good characters, their contributions to their communities, and their principled opposition to the pipeline expansion project. However, the court accepted the Crown’s recommendation for 14-day prison sentences, emphasizing that punishing contempt of court is necessary to enforce court processes and uphold the rule of law.
Contempt of court is not a Criminal Code offence, and is the only remaining common law criminal offence in Canada. Nevertheless, the court relied on the sentencing principles from section 718 of the Criminal Code as a guide in this matter, focusing particularly on the principles of denunciation and deterrence. Although specific deterrence was not of much importance for the defendants, the court held that general deterrence was still relevant to the sentencing, because “other members of the general public who may be tempted to pick and choose the court orders that they will obey, either in this situation, or in others, must be deterred from flouting orders of the court”.
The four women have since been released on bail pending an appeal of their sentences. The construction of the pipeline expansion project is on hold since the Federal Court of Appeal quashed the National Energy Board’s approval of the project in Tsleil-Waututh Nation v. Canada (Attorney General), 2018 FCA 153, and the protestors’ counsel intends to argue that a prison sentence is not appropriate when the protests have stopped, and there is no need to deter further interference with the construction.
This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.